Today, I have finally decided to sit down and write my philosophy essay. I wonder how free I am to make this decision. Fatalism would suggest that I might as well go outside and enjoy the day, as no matter what I do now, my fate is decided and a particular future is inevitable. This theory is highly questionable, as it appears that our behaviour in the present undeniably has an effect on the future.
Determinism accepts this notion, but suggests that my decision to write this essay now is inevitable due to numerous factors that are beyond my control, and so I am not exercising free will in my action of essay writing (Sober, 2001).
However, I believe there is an intuitive sense of freedom in our everyday decision-making that cannot be denied. This essay will distinguish causality from determinism and then evaluate theories of compatibilism, suggesting that causality does not deny the possibility of free will. There are two arguments explaining determinism. Firstly, there is the Distant Causation Argument that claims our behaviour is caused by factors – genes, childhood, experience, environment and context – that are beyond our control and hence, we are not responsible for our behaviour (Sober, 2001).
However, while such factors do influence and cause our beliefs and desires and our beliefs and desires constitute our moral character, it is still us, the agent, that deliberates, decides and acts. Secondly, there is the Could-Not-Have-Done-Otherwise Argument. This implies that rational deliberation is deterministic (Sober, 2001).
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However, I would like to suggest that internal deliberation, although undeniably influenced by causal factors, it is also an expression of free will.
The theory of compatibilism, in relation to free will, suggests that it is possible to act freely without denying the concept of causality (Sober, 2001).
Causality is not synonymous with determinism. For example, studying Philosophy 1011 does not determine my understanding of metaphysics, however, if I do gain a basic understanding of metaphysics by the end of the semester, it would trace back to my decision to study Philosophy 1011. My understanding was caused but not determined. There are three main compatibilist theories, Hume’s theory, second-order desire theory and the weather vane theory. Firstly, David Hume suggests that we are free if we act the way in which we want to and could have chosen to act differently.
That is, free actions are those that are causally controlled by our beliefs and desires (Sober, 2001) For example, I have freely chosen to write this essay now because I could have chosen to ignore it and fail philosophy. According to Hume’s theory, this would not be a free action if someone tied me to the computer chair and pressed my fingers onto the appropriate keys until the essay was completed, because, regardless of whether or not I wanted to write the essay, I could have nothing else. There are, however, flaws in Hume’s theory. Firstly, there is the notion of compulsive behaviour. For example a kleptomaniac could not be said to be acting freely, however, according to Hume’s theory, because the kleptomaniac is acting on his own desire to steal, he is free. Although, perhaps it could be argued also, according to Hume’s theory, that because the kleptomaniac has no option but to steal, that he is not free.
Secondly, Locke describes a man who is unknowingly locked in a room, but freely chooses to remain there. Hume’s theory suggests however that the man is not free. So, Hume’s theory is not completely plausible, as it does not adequately explain the notion of compulsiveness or the possibility of acting freely under unfree circumstances. A second compatibilist theory proposes the relevance of second-order desires. This theory, supported by Gerald Dworkin and Harry Frankfurt, suggests distinguishes first-order and second-order desires, and claims that we are free when our second-order desires are consistent with our first-order desires (Sober, 2001).
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For example, a first-order desire is “I would like some chocolate” and a second-order desire would be “I want to desire the chocolate because it will encourage me to continue writing this essay.” Because these two desires are in agreement, I am free whilst I eat my Caramel lo Koala.
However, one fault in this theory is the possibility of higher order desires. I could also have a third-order desire “I’m going to get fat so I really don’t want to eat this chocolate.” This clashes with my two other desires and so, according to this theory, I am actually not free in eating the chocolate. Also, this theory does not adequately explain some compulsive behaviour, such as the kleptomaniac who is so delusional that he cannot see the harm in his compulsive behaviour. Therefore, this compatibilist theory is not entirely plausible either.
The weather vane analogy is the third and the most plausible compatibilist theory. It suggests that a weather vane is free when it performs its function, correctly pointing out the direction of the wind, and is unfree when rusted and is not changed by the wind. It demonstrates that the difference between free and unfree behaviour is what causes it, not whether it is caused (Sober, 2001).
The analogy can be applied to the notion of free will in that when our mind is functioning properly, as to decide what is good for us, we are free. So, we have a belief-generating-device (BGD) – taking evidence such as other beliefs and experience to form beliefs – and a desire-generating-device (DGD) – representing what is good for us – that form our beliefs and desires on which we deliberate and form intentions upon which we act (Sober, 2001).
This theory explains that compulsive behaviour is not free as the DGD is malfunctioning.
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The man in Locke’s locked room is exercising free will because his mind is functioning. The weather vane analogy plausibly explains these stumbling blocks. However, there is the question of coercion, whether or not it denies our free will. I believe there is a distinction between free will and freedom. A robber may deny our freedom to keep our possessions and our life, but we are not denied the ability to choose our behaviour in the unfortunate circumstance.
Our mind is still functioning freely, despite physical constraints on our behaviour. Also, the notion of rational self-sacrifice, possibly poses a challenge for this compatibilist argument. It is suggested that as self-sacrifice does good for others, but not for the agent, that the DGD is malfunctioning, which conflicts with the idea that the agent is acting of free will (Sober, 2001).
However, this objection relies on the definition of what is good for the agent. I don’t believe the notion of good is as simple as physical well-being or self-interest. Good for those we care for can overlap with what we consider good for ourselves.
Although it probably cannot be said conclusively, it is definitely plausible that my decision to write this essay is not completely determined. That although there are causal factors – my parents’ expectations, my schooling, my genes, my environment and of course my love of philosophy – that influence and create my beliefs, and there are factors that create my desire to pass, it is my deliberation and hence intentions that ultimately result in me completing this essay. My mind was functioning, as I desired what is good for me, i. e.
to pass philosophy. It is evident that the compatibilist theory is at the very least plausible, and possibly even satisfactorily explains the concept of free will. Reference: Sober, E. Introduction to Metaphysics, Ch 4, Prentice Hall 2001, pp. 297 ff.